Toned abs are a must-have on your summer beach trip shopping list, but sleek abs don't come easily and you can't pick them up alongside your bikini. You can work your upper and lower abs at the same time, or individually target each muscle group. But for the best bikini body, you'll also need to burn fat or all the muscle you're building won't be visible.
Unless you're lucky enough to have very low body fat, you'll need to shed some pounds around your waist to benefit from abdominal exercises. Targeting just your abs is not enough. You will also want to do fat-busting activities that get your entire body moving, and cardio is the clear winner for this goal. Try swimming, cycling, spinning a hula hoop around your waist, jogging or jumping rope to burn some extra calories.
The American Council on Exercise found that bicycle crunches are highly effective at shaping both the upper and lower abs because they keep your abs engaged the entire time you're working out. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet off the ground. With your hands behind your head or on your chest, crunch upward and pull your left knee in toward your right elbow, twisting slightly to the left. Repeat on the other side, pulling your right knee in toward your left elbow. Aim for five to 10 reps on each side.
Like the bicycle crunch, knee raises in a captain's chair keep your abs engaged and work both upper and lower abs. Most gyms have this piece of equipment, which looks like a chair with a backrest and no seat. Stand in a captain's chair while gripping the handles and then slowly lift your legs off the ground as you bend your knees. Keep your back straight and focus on using your abs rather than your arms or back to lift your legs. For a home version of this exercise, try balancing near the edge of a sturdy chair with your hands gripping the seat or arms for support, and then slowly lift your legs.
Crunches are a staple maneuver in the ab arsenal, but you can maximize their effectiveness by doing them on an exercise ball, according to the American Council on Exercise. Position yourself on an exercise ball with your back across the ball, and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Crunch up, keeping your abs engaged and avoiding using your hands or feet to help with the lift. This exercise primarily works your upper abs.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.